Design – the first step in your fit out

Before you can start your fit out, you need to have a design

You have found your tenancy and are ready to design your fit out – what’s next?

Above is one of my favourite cartoons about fit out projects, and it happens a lot – despite everyone talking about what will happen, each person has a different idea in their head of what is actually going to be delivered.  This is why having a good design and clear documentation is critical.

Finding the best person to design your fit out

The vast majority of fit outs do not need an architect – architects design buildings rather than fit outs.  You will need an experienced Retail Interior Designer.  Not only will they understand interiors better than an architect, they should also understand things like customer journey through your shop, requirements for staff & storage, the importance of an appealing shopfront, and so on.   The best designers will understand what builders need to know to be able to price, can advise you on value engineering (more on that later!), and be practical about your use of the space.

There are many designers out there.  Your landlord might recommend someone or you may need an expert in a particular field (eg: kitchens).  But the most important criteria is someone who understand you, someone you feel comfortable talking to and who will tease out your ideas rather than come to you with a cookie cutter approach.

What will your designer produce?

Any designer worth their salt will be able to produce some very pretty pictures, but you need more than that.  You need a robust set of plans that detail exactly what will be built, what the builder needs to include, and your expectations for the quality to be delivered.  If you are tendering your fit out plans so you can get the best price, then this is particularly important.

The designer’s quote should list each drawing that they will produce for you and the design stages they will go through with you.  You need to understand this so that they do not charge you unexpected variations later on.  I can give you a checklist to help you assess this – just get in touch!

​Your drawings will also show your landlord what they will be getting – very important in big shopping centres where they are enforcing a quality fit out from all tenants.

The brief – explaining your fit out to your designer

Many people are reluctant to talk about money.  But if you don’t tell your designer what you want to pay, you may waste a lot of time getting a beautiful design that you cannot afford.  I strongly recommend giving a ball-park number that you are happy to spend on your fitout.  I will talk more about budgeting in a future post.

The next step is to find pictures that you like. The images don’t have to be of shops, they can be anything that speaks to you.  This is called creating a mood board, and a good designer will help you figure out what in each image actually appeals to you.  For example – is it the layout, a colour, a piece of furniture, the lighting – there are so many things that contribute to a great fit out!

Finally, don’t be afraid to give clear feedback to your designer.  If you don’t like what they have produced, then it’s important to let them know before they get too far down the track.  Designers can be sensitive and creative, but you are their client!

Other consultants

Depending on the complexity of your fit out, you may need additional consultants to design your building services.  This could include electrical, mechanical (air-conditioning & kitchen exhaust), hydraulic (plumbing) and structural engineers, among others.  Your designer may be able to engage these specialists for you, which I highly recommend as they can then coordinate all of the designs and make sure there are no clashes.  For more info, please feel free to get in touch with me.

To find out more about how Setting Up Shop tailors its service to each client, head to our tenancy coordination and project management pages.

Comments 5

  1. Hey guys a warm welcome from Suspended Ceilings Qld, here in Brisbane Australia. Great little article you have here, that picture made me laugh. Sums it up fairly well, it gave my work colleagues a good giggle too. You are right in your comments though and that article is simple and I’m sure it will help a few people out.

  2. What’s involved in shop set up and design of a nail shop for my wife in the west pennant hills area ,,shop 50sqm or what do I need in size to set up a 3-4 person shop colour schemes and etc ,,, I need a layout I think it’s called we can do but thinking a shop designer would be professional and I’m sure a company would be experienced in layout

    1. Post

      Hi Tony, and apologies for the late reply . I think something has gone awry in my website and I didn’t get your message.

      A lot will depend on the shopping centre you are going into. Many landlords will want you to engage an interior designer to make sure your shop looks as good as possible. There is a bit more information on my blog page if you want to have a look at that. It also depends on what is int he shop at the moment – there might already be a ceiling and shopfront, or you might need to build these from scratch. A good shopfitter might also be able to design as well as build the shop for you.

      Feel free to email me at if you have more questions.


  3. That’s a good idea to discuss the price early on, so the designer knows what you can afford and everyone saves time planning everything out. A friend of mine was talking about shop fitting recently, and I thought it was an interesting topic. Since I haven’t heard much about it until recently, I thought I’d read up on it a bit. This article was really helpful.

  4. Hi, Tyson here from Trimline Interiors in Gympie, Qld. Loved the article. Loved the pics even more. How true though. Funny as they are, you are dead right! Pics and detailed diagrams early on can clear up a multitude of misunderstandings and miscommunication problems. In my experience, this prevent unnecessary drama as the project progresses and the customer gets what they want AND what they are able to pay for. Well written. Absolutely to the point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *